After the gritty, 2012 playoff series between the Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers, it was evident that there was a black cloud hanging over last night’s game at Scotiabank Place.
Right on cue with the script, early in the third period, a deafening silence swept over the hometown crowd.
Already missing the high-scoring, team leadership of Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and even Milan Michalek, the Sens saw NHL-leading goaltender Craig Anderson crumple to the ice after Chris Kreider came sliding through the crease. Anderson left the ice after laying there for a few minutes, and he was unable to put any pressure on his right leg. After being helped off the rink by Chris Phillips and Marc Methot, Anderson went to the dressing room and was replaced by Ben Bishop. The young giant Bishop had the mountainous task of replacing the freshly injured NHL-leader Anderson, and trying to maintain a 1-0 lead against the big, bad Rangers.
After letting in two fast-rebound tips and screeners within a few minutes, Bishop seemed a tad rattled. The momentum had shifted, the Rangers led 2-1, and even John Tortorella sighed a deep breath of relief on the Rangers bench.
But when the gasket is about to blow, the Sens always seem to find a way to cool their engines and re-discover their composure.
That composure came in the form of a well set-up power play goal by Mika Zibanejad. After Patrick Wiercioch’s point shot bounced out, Zibanejad was right on the doorstep and roofed the puck in the top left corner while Zack Smith had Lundqvist’s line of sight blocked. After tying the game and holding on, Bishop and the Sens sighed relief while Tortorella looked furious.
After a relatively quiet overtime, and a few more post-dingers by the Rangers, the shoot out was on. Young Jakob Silfverberg, who beat Brodeur in a shoot out victory over the Devils on the weekend, nicked one off Lundqvist’s glove hand that sent the superstar goalie falling backward and throwing the puck back out of the net in disgust. Rangers captain Ryan Callahan silenced the crowd, though, as he went five-hole on Bishop and evened the score. After a few more rounds and a few more misses, enter another young Sens player – Kaspars Daugavins.
Oddly enough, Daugavins was a player I watched a lot in 2012, and even though he only racked up 11 points in 65 games, he showed his ability to work hard, skate hard and even deke a few goalies out of their pants.
Skating in awful close to Lundqvist, Daugavins deked and wanted to pull back to his forehand. Somewhere in the transition of the move, though, he lost control of the puck…and it sailed straight on through Lundqvist’s five-hole.
After JT Miller missed the net on his final attempt for New York, Daugavins strange goal ended up being the game winner.
Although injuries, post-ringers and close calls are plaguing the 2013 Sens, this is a team that finds a way to keep going. So what is it that keeps them going?
Maybe it’s their coach – Paul MacLean. Affectionately nicknamed by myself and my brother as ‘The Walrus’, Coach MacLean has done a number on this team. Where other Senators coaches were harsh and stand-offish, MacLean has been seen as putting his hands on the players shoulders and offering quick but personal words of advice. This is a coach that seems to know his team, and who treats his team as a unit that utilizes skill players.
MacLean has been quoted several times this season, as the media frenzy has stuck microphones in his thickly mustached face to ask him his thoughts on his injured squad. Time and time again, though, MacLean’s reaction is the same; he sees the opportunity for younger players to rise up to the challenge.
But just how young are these players who have taken over the Senators?
In last night’s starting lineup, 13 players had played 200 games or less in the NHL.
STARTING SENATORS IN LAST NIGHT’S GAME (NHL GAMES PLAYED):
KYLE TURRIS (204)
ZACK SMITH (170)
ERIC CONDRA (125)
COLIN GREENING (123)
KASPARS DAUGAVINS* (77)
STEPHANE DA COSTA (35)
ANDRE BENOIT (22)
ERIC WIERCOCH (22)
MIKA ZIBANEJAD (21)
JAKOB SILFVERBERG (18)
ERIC GRYBA (4)
DAVE DZIURZYNSKI (4)
DEREK GRANT (4)
(*= scored game winning goal in the shootout)
With a roster as young and as injured as it is, you wouldn’t expect the Ottawa Senators to be a playoff-contending, 10-7-2 team who have won three games in a row.
But they are.
Say what you will about GM Bryan Murray, but that man, along with the entire Senators organization, has done an excellent job in building and fostering future talent.
And as it turns out, that young talent is needed now, more than ever.